One night, Molly Clarke walked away from her life. The car abandoned miles from home. The note found at a nearby hotel. The shattered family that couldn’t be put back together. It happens all the time. Women disappear, desperate to leave their lives behind and start over. She doesn’t want to be found. Or at least, that’s the story. But is that what really happened to Molly Clarke?
The night Molly disappeared began with a storm, running out of gas, and a man in a truck offering her a ride to town. With him is a little girl who reminds her of the daughter she lost years ago. It feels like a sign. And Molly is overcome with the desire to be home, with her family—no matter how broken it is. She accepts the ride. But when the doors are locked shut, Molly begins to suspect she has made a terrible mistake.
When a new lead comes in after the search has ended, Molly’s daughter, Nicole, begins to wonder. Nothing about her mother’s disappearance makes sense.
Nicole returns to the small, desolate town where her mother was last seen to find the truth. The locals are kind and eager to help. The innkeeper. The bartender. Even the police. Until secrets begin to reveal themselves and she comes closer to the truth about that night—and the danger surrounding her.
Welcome to another buddy review! This time we’re once again tackling another thriller. We have found that it’s nice to be able to discuss the suspense and our theorycrafting as we read through the book simultaneously. Below we have outlined the main elements of our discussion, enjoy!
Pacing and Suspense Build Up
Fives: The initial suspense is really good, we are dropped right at the scene of the crime, a classic start. We are introduced to our victim, Molly, and are given vague details on the events of that night as she is whisked away, and seemingly disappears off the face of the planet. This leaves her daughter Nicole to come back to the scene in light of new evidence surfacing, once again in search of her mother. However, the suspense after this initial drop really slows down and mellows out. It was kind of disappointing in the contrast, since there isn’t as much suspense that follows.
That being said, I definitely was very into it at the beginning, and thought that it got off to a great start. In fact, I was feeling the suspense so much I had to put the book down a few times at first! So that’s where a huge portion of my liking (and rating) for this book comes from. As for the pacing, it was perhaps a bit slow for my liking, and there may have been too early of a reveal for the antagonist? With any mystery or thriller, as soon as the culprit is revealed, the suspense often peaks, but I didn’t really feel that here in this book.
Andge: We talked a lot about this, Fives and me. The beginning hooked me in right away as we’re grappling to understand what had happened to Molly and whether her strained relationships with her family would prevent them from trying to learn the truth. I actually couldn’t put it down at first until the pacing slowed down with one POV. I feel the alignment/parallelism of POVs was not the best as it hindered suspense building when one was intense and the other was not. The reveal was also maybe sooner than I anticipated so that could be a hit or miss for people because, what the heck is supposed to happen for several more chapters when the bad guy IS RIGHT THERE?
Andge: I like that there were really short chapters which makes the time fly by a little bit faster. We have 2 POVs that we constantly switch between which has its pros and cons. While I understand it helps build suspense when POV #1 ends on some cliffhanger, honestly I just sometimes skip past POV #2 and read the next chapter with POV #1 because that’s just mean! You can decide if that is something you like or not. The other issue is the build-up of suspense. If both POVs were synchronized in their build-up as we move through the book, then sure, I’d be on high levels of suspense the whole time. But when POV #1 is suspenseful but POV #2 is just kind of meh, it really kills the mood that was just built, you know? I can’t see any pro for this particular element.
Fives: I totally agree with Andge here, the short chapters makes the reading pace fly by. I tend to like this kind of writing, as it helps me naturally keep some more suspense as the author strategically switches back and forth. The swaps in this novel are fairly well done, and I had no qualms with this. I have to further agree with Andge about the difference between the two POVs. Throughout the book, there is almost always quite a large disparity between the tension in both POVs. This inherently makes one plot more exciting than the other, which weakens the utility of the dual POVs.
Fives: The characters were generally well hashed out and realistic. In fact, personally it was probably my favourite part of the book. We really got to see the nature of the relationships of Molly’s family and how their family tragedy altered the nature of their relationships. Slowly we come to understand how the circumstances behind Molly’s disappearance could have been construed in the way that it was. Why people were willing to write it off as something that happens all the time. This portion really added to the whole psychological thriller aspect of the novel which I enjoyed. As for the rest of the supporting cast, they were ok. Nothing too special, just your typical suspicious characters with a complicated and tangled-up past. The highlight for me was definitely the Clarke family relationship, and in particular Nicole and Molly’s.
Andge: I hadn’t anticipated the can of worms that was the Clarke family dynamic. Having lost a child in their family, there was a lot of guilt and shame and anger still floating around even years after the tragedy. But in this manner, the events in this book allow for different Clarke members to confront their demons that still held onto them, especially Nicole as she faced potentially losing another family member. The growth was explored in a way that intertwined seamlessly with the mystery and ensuing investigation.
While I applaud this character development, Fives was right to say everyone else felt rather generic. Sketchy people in a small town and everyone is a suspect with something they’re hiding. I couldn’t tell which was more guilty at first. I did, however, feel the pool of townspeople and suspects felt rather small so it made predicting the culprit(s) a tad easier.
Andge: As always, we won’t give away any spoilers, so no worries. I just wanted to say that endings always mean a lot to me in mysteries/thrillers. And while we theorized a lot of things while we were reading the book together, I will give a clap to the author for throwing in a twist I had not outlandishly threw out at one point.
I’m not 100% sure I loved the overall ending, though. I feel it made sense, but at the same time, wasn’t the punch in the gut, omg-why-didn’t-I-think-of-that kinda feeling. I particularly love this feeling when I read an incredible book. So it really started off strong, but I can’t say it ended at the same level or higher than where it began.
Fives: Just wanted to put it out there that Andge has a surprising knack for guessing these kinds of things in the plot. Her “outlandish” theories often hit true, and every time we read on from our agreed stopping point, I quickly find myself checking off the list of predictions she has made. Although of course, we both make many theories so some are bound to ring true, right?
I definitely agree with her here that the ending was a twist neither of us were expecting, so kudos for coming up with something that was definitely surprising. However, like Andge mentions, I don’t think either of us particularly enjoyed this twist. There is that balance between surprising and impactful, and I don’t think this ending quite reached that point for me. For me, this book started off super strong (and I was very hyped) but by the end I wasn’t quite satisfied.
And that’s it for this buddy read! There’s always some comfort in reading through a thriller with a buddy – some of these can be so scary and emotionally tense, and it is so much fun to theorycraft together too. Stay tuned for more!